Tax Day Demonstration Against Drones

children killed 6

Our anti-drone action this morning at the federal courthouse in Sacramento was one of many actions taking place around the country this month, during the April Days of Action Against Drones.  Five of us still face federal charges for trespassing onto Beale Air Force Base last October during an anti-drone protest.  We were protesting drones based at Beale, Black Hawk surveillance drones, which identify targets for killer drones.  Even more, we were challenging our government’s illegal and morally reprehensible policies that include kill lists, targeted assassinations, and remote-control killing.  You can read about my motivation for taking this action at “Why I Crossed the Line at Beale.”

Our trial was originally scheduled for today, but it’s been postponed.  Still, April 15, Tax Day, is a good day for a demonstration against drones.  The drone program consumes billions of our tax dollars.  Our government cuts programs that promote the common good and serve basic human needs, while it pours billions into hi-tech robotic killing machines that destroy human lives and communities halfway around the world.

U.S. drones have killed thousands of people, mostly civilians, including women and children.  We know many of their names.  They are our neighbors, fellow members of our one human family.  But the more people we kill, the more enemies we create.  We are setting into motion a cycle of violence that may last for generations.

Friends from the Radical Art for These Times group brought a quilt-like banner they had created for this action.  After looking at the paintings of children who have been killed by U.S. drones, and reading their names, ages, and their countries of origin, Guari and I stood there, held each other, and cried.

There has to be a better way.  Another world is possible.  It will take all of us working together to create a grassroots movement with the power to raise public awareness, inspire action, and pressure our public officials to change the system of global military domination to one of peace.

I trust that the Love that brought this universe into being and sustains us in every moment is on the side of compassion, healing, and peace, and is working through every person who is moving us toward a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.  That’s where I see God in the world.

Speaking Peace on Palm/Passion Sunday

This blog post is taken from the speech that Sharon gave at a Tour de Peace event with Cindy Sheehan in Nevada City, California, on Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24, 2013.

Hi friends.  It’s good to be here with all of you.  I’m so glad to be part of a community of people who are passionate about peace.

The first peace group I ever attended was the Nevada County Anti-draft Coalition. Our kids were young teenagers, and the government had just re-instituted draft registration.  It was 1979.  Not long after that, I became involved in the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.  I was motivated to work for peace out of concern for my children.

I was also motivated by my faith.  The first time I was arrested for peace was over 30 years ago, at the Nevada Test Site, on Good Friday.  We prayed and sang under a rustic cross, then held the barbed wire for each other and stepped through onto the test site.  I felt connected to Jesus, who had engaged in nonviolent direct action against Empire so many years before.

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, the first day of Holy Week.  This morning all the children were marching around the church singing “hosannah” and waving palm branches, because that’s what the people of Jerusalem did so long ago when Jesus came into the city riding on a donkey.  Then we went downstairs and played “Pin the Jesus on the Donkey.”

On that first Palm Sunday, the people shouted “Hosannah.”  Many wanted to make Jesus king, like his ancestor David.  They wanted him to defeat the Romans, who were occupying their country, to drive them out and set up their own kingdom through military might.  They gave Jesus a hero’s welcome.  But the story quickly devolves from there.

Jesus stops and looks out over Jerusalem, and he  begins to weep.  He weeps over Jerusalem, saying to the people, “Would that you, even you, had known this day the things that make for peace, but they are hidden from your eyes.”  He warns that they and their children and their children’s children face disaster if they don’t turn around.   Jesus weeps.

I feel like that sometimes.  I look at how the future will be for my grandchildren and for their grandchildren,  and I can see that they’ll face disaster if we don’t turn around as a people.  I weep.

From there Jesus, a faithful Jew, goes to the Temple and engages in nonviolent direct action. He overthrows the tables of the money-changers there. He always challenged unjust laws, but for the ruling authorities, both political and religious, this was the last straw. This symbolic action went to the heart of an economic system that oppressed the people, a system upon which Jewish collaboration with Rome had been built. This infuriated the elite religious leaders who benefited from cooperating with the Roman occupation. Within days Jesus was arrested, tried and convicted of treason, tortured and executed on a cross, the Roman Empire’s preferred method for doing away with subversives and traitors. Just 30 years before the Romans crucified over 2000 people because there had been a revolt in Galilee.

From there Jesus goes to the Temple and engages in nonviolent direct action.  He overthrows the tables of the money-changers there.  He always challenged unjust laws, but this was the last straw.  This symbolic action went to the heart of an economic system that oppressed the people, a system upon which Jewish collaboration with Rome had been built.  This infuriated the elite religious leaders who benefited from cooperating with the Roman occupation.  Within days Jesus was arrested, tried and convicted of treason, tortured and executed on a cross, the Roman Empire’s preferred method for doing away with subversives and traitors.   Just 30 years before the Romans crucified over 2000 people because there had been a revolt in Galilee.

Empire requires the willingness to use massive and overwhelming force.  It was true in the time of the Roman Empire, and it’s true in today’s global Empire.

There’s a new book out called “The Passion of Bradley Manning.”  This book is a comprehensive look at the case of Bradley Manning, who released classified information to get the truth out about the Iraq War.  The book tells about his passion, the sufferings he has endured-solitary confinement and mistreatment.  He’s being charged with aiding the enemy–that’s treason.  The government is making an example of Bradley Manning in order to prevent other soldiers from also becoming whistleblowers.

What does this say about our values as a nation?  What values are we teaching our children?  Our children are being sacrificed on the altars of money and military power.  As a culture, we do not know the things that make for peace.

This is part of the passion of our time.   It’s a time when international law is ignored, kill lists are created, war crimes are covered up, whistleblowers are punished.   It’s a time when drone “pilots” sit at computer terminals and kill people by remote control thousands of miles away, a time when we talk of supporting our troops while so many veterans suffer from PTSD, or are disabled, or homeless, or suicidal. It’s a time when there are seven times as many empty houses, many of them foreclosed, than there are homeless people.  It’s a time when health care, schools, the post office, libraries, and vital services are cut rather than raising the taxes on the 1%.  It’s a time when corporations regulate governments rather than the other way around.

We live at a time of global empire, held together by an interconnected global economy, dominated by huge corporations, supported by an ideology of unrestrained free market capitalism, dependent upon a permanent war economy, and enforced by militarized police forces and home and the most powerful military industrial complex in history.

The world desperately needs people who are passionate and willing to take action for peace.

Cindy Sheehan has gone through her own passion.  She has suffered, of course.  What can be worse than the death of your child?  So many families have lost loved ones in these endless wars, military families here and also families in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan.  But Cindy also has a passionate commitment to work for peace, so that the insanity and evil that took her child will end.   That’s the point of the Tour de Peace… to revitalize the Peace Movement, so that the death, and destruction, and torture, and endless war, and war on nature will cease.

Since my name went up on the poster saying that I’d be speaking at the Cindy Sheehan event, several people have shared their thoughts with me.  Some people react with passion.  One mother told me, “I can’t go there.  My son is in Afghanistan.  All I can do is visualize him safe until he comes home.  I can’t go any further than that.”

Another mother said to me, “Some people bad-mouth Cindy Sheehan.  But I totally support what she’s doing.  If that was my child who was killed, I’d be doing the same thing.”  Then she said, “I’m Cindy Sheehan.”

I get that.  I care about the children.  I care about the future.  I care about the things that make for peace.  I know you do, too.  Each of us could say “I’m Cindy Sheehan.”  But instead we need to

ask ourselves what we can do, what gifts do we have to bring to this struggle, what are we uniquely able to contribute.  Our challenge is to go deep within ourselves, to find the spiritual resources that will enable us to bring our whole selves to this struggle to help create the “other world” that is possible.  There are many things that we can do:

Support the Tour de Peace through donations and in other ways–Cindy will tell you how.  Support the Peace Center, which does so much in this community.   Support our local Move to Amend Coalition, working with national groups to enact a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood and make it clear that money is not speech.  Check out the Earth Justice Ministries display, buy my book, follow my blog.  Prepare yourself spiritually, mentally, and physically so you’ll be ready when the next right action for you to take comes along–maybe even nonviolent direct action.

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday, but Easter is coming–a celebration of new life, of resurrection.  Take it literally or take it as Archbishop Oscar Romero put it when he called on the soldiers of El Salvador to lay down their arms, just days before he was killed while serving Holy Communion.  He said, “If you kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.”  We don’t need to fear.  We can take strong and passionate action for peace.  We the people will rise.  We are rising.

Why I Crossed the Line at Beale

Beale demonstrators outside federal courthouse

Beale demonstrators outside federal courthouse

At church the other day, someone asked me about my upcoming trial, and she ended up putting me on the church’s prayer chain.  I love my church.  People are praying for me, even those who have no idea why I would cross the line onto federal property at Beale Air Force Base during an anti-drone protest.  They are praying for me “because she did what she thought was right.”

The least I can do is explain why I would do such a thing.

First, I strongly oppose using unmanned drones to kill people half a world  away.  It is my government that has put together a “kill list” and is engaging in targeted assassinations with my tax dollars, and in my name.  I have explained in past blogs about drone warfare  the reasons that have motivated me to take strong action:  the fact that it violates international law, the widespread deaths of civilians, rescue workers being targeted with secondary strikes, the threat of a drone arms race, surveillance drones being used not just in other countries but also here in the United States, the tax dollars wasted on these programs, the use of drones as part of a larger U.S. goal of dominating the earth from space, and the “blowback” effect from drone strikes causing retaliation to be visited upon my grandchildren and their grandchildren for generations.

I cannot close my ears to the cries of the victims of U.S. drone attacks without going into denial.

I cannot harden my heart against them without losing a part of my humanity.

Second, I have dedicated my life to preaching, teaching, and living the good news of peace, justice, and healing for all creation.  This is the mission that Jesus announced in Luke 4 by reading from the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  This is the mission that engages me, whether I’m teaching Sunday School, writing a book or article, speaking before a large assembly, or organizing an action.  This is the calling that energizes my ministry:  sharing the grace, love, hope, and liberating action of God.

Still, why did I go so far as to risk arrest?  Why not just stay with the writing, speaking, teaching, and organizing?  Why not stop there?  Because I can do all of these things without directly confronting the system, without risking its sanctions.  Engaging in nonviolent direct action is one way that I can exercise my spiritual authority, moral responsibility, and freedom as a human being, whether I convince other people or stand alone.  This is one way that I can refuse to be complicit, one way that I can say “No, I won’t stand for this, not in my name.”

Third, as I outlined in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, we are going down the road toward a living hell on earth.  Drones are just one aspect of that hellish future.  I’m convinced that we must be willing to take strong stands, speak out clearly, risk our comforts, and take nonviolent actions that directly challenge the system, because the stakes are so very high.  Fortunately, many people around the world are waking up and taking action to address the dangers we face.

As I face trial on April 15 with four other kindred spirits, supported by hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, I feel calm, centered, and happy. I feel connected to Jesus, who confronted empire in his day.  The possibility of peace, justice, and healing for all creation is, indeed, good news.  It is also within reach, if we human beings, with God’s help, refuse to be complicit and become willing to take a stand.

Read a Sacramento Bee article on the arraignment here.

Drones and Space Warfare

Drones use space2

People who are concerned about the increasing use of unmanned drones by the United States point to the immorality of killing people without due process, the loss of innocent life, and the illegality of targeted assassinations.  I raise an additional concern:  the use of drones as an integral part of a plan by the United States to dominate the earth from space.

Drone warfare is space warfare.  While drone operators are seated at their computer terminals, satellites map the terrain, guide surveillance and armed drones, and target those who are to be killed thousands of miles away.  U.S. Space Command incorporates drone warfare into its overarching strategy, outlined in its Vision for 2020.  The plan is to dominate the earth from space and to protect the global economic order by establishing a global satellite surveillance and positioning system and space-based weapons including lasers, not only for defensive but also for offensive purposes.

According to Vision for 2020,  this strategy will enable the United States to gain the “ultimate high ground” of space in order to enforce its will. The goal is: “Dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investments. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.”

I included information about Vision for 2020 in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, because this vision is directly at odds with the vision of a more hopeful future and because the U.S. military-industrial complex is the primary enforcement mechanism for corporate globalization.

The overarching goal of U.S. military planning is not simply the defense or protection of U.S. citizens. The current push toward U.S. political, economic, and military dominance is directly related to the goal of an integrated capitalist global economic system.   As Thomas Friedman said (although the references are somewhat outdated):

“The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. And these fighting forces and institutions are paid for by American taxpayer dollars.”

Contact me for a free download of  “The Iron Fist:  Enforcing Corporate Globalization,” which is Chapter 14 of Shaking the Gates of Hell.

Today’s Arraignment

Zinn quote

The courtroom was filled with supporters today as nine people faced arraignment in U.S. District in Sacramento for trespassing onto federal property at Beale Air Force Base last October  while protesting U.S. drone warfare.  Charges were dropped against four of the defendants:  Fr. Louie Vitale, MacGregor Eddy, Barry Binks, and Toby Blome.  We don’t know why their charges were dropped, but it could have to do with the fact that they were arrested separately from the other group, at a different gate.  The five of us who were arrested at the main gate are David and Jan Hartsough, Shirley Osgood, Janie Kesselman, and me.

The remaining five of us pled “not guilty.”  Yes, of course we engaged in civil disobedience.  There are videos showing that we blocked traffic, stepped across the line onto federal property, held signs, and refused to leave.  We tried to deliver a list of demands to the base commander.

I chose to plead “not guilty” by reason of necessity; that is, I acted in order to prevent a greater harm from taking place.  My co-defendants and I will be discussing defense strategy with our team of lawyers, who are working pro bono in order to help bring the issue of drone warfare into the public eye.

Our trial is scheduled for April 15, Tax Day.  That is the perfect day for this trial.  Beale is the home of Global Hawk Drones, which are used for surveillance and for targeting of weaponized drones.  According to the New York Times, the Air Force’s Global Hawk program costs $12 billion; the estimated cost for one of these drones is $218 million.  The Navy is on board with its own version of the program, for an estimated $11 billion.  That’s where our money goes.

For those of you who have Facebook, here’s today’s Facebook event site where pictures have been posted.  The Occupy Beale AFB website gives background and updates about scheduled events.  Earth Justice Ministries will keep people updated through our website, Facebook page, and email newsletter.  I’ll also be keeping people informed who follow this blog.

Thanks to everyone who is supporting our efforts to raise awareness about this issue.  Please pass on information and action opportunities as they become available so we can turn the tide against global domination through violence and sow the seeds of world peace.